Borstal Boy (2002)



Critic Consensus: The sentimentality of Borstal Boy feels false in contrast to the gritty life of the actual Brendan Behan.

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Brendan Behan's famous memoir about his troubled youth formed the basis of this drama. Brendan (Shawn Hatosy) is a 16-year-old boy from Ireland who loathes the British and is eager to do something about it. Brendan sails into Liverpool, but is discovered to be carrying the makings of a bomb; he's soon placed under arrest and thrown into a borstal (British reform school), where he finds himself surrounded by a collection of tough-as-nails English delinquents. While his political beliefs don't change, Brendan learns to become more tolerant of others as he makes friends with a few of his fellow inmates, including Charlie (Danny Dyer), who dreams of sailing away some day, and Scottish Jock (Robin Laing). Brendan also has to deal with the pains of first love when he becomes infatuated with Liz (Eva Birthistle), the daughter of the school's master (Michael York). Borstal Boy marked the film debut of stage director Peter Sheridan, the brother of noted Irish filmmaker Jim Sheridan. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi
Art House & International , Drama
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Critic Reviews for Borstal Boy

All Critics (33) | Top Critics (16)

Behan's emotional growth and confused self-examination are ably conveyed by Hatosy's spirited and well-nuanced performance.

Full Review… | October 14, 2002
L.A. Weekly
Top Critic

Dripping with cliche and bypassing no opportunity to trivialize the material.

Full Review… | June 7, 2002
Boston Globe
Top Critic

Takes a clunky TV-movie approach to detailing a chapter in the life of the celebrated Irish playwright, poet and drinker.

May 2, 2002
Philadelphia Inquirer
Top Critic

Well-made but mush-hearted.

Full Review… | April 12, 2002
Seattle Times
Top Critic

A film that will probably please people already fascinated by Behan but leave everyone else yawning with admiration.

Full Review… | April 12, 2002
San Francisco Chronicle
Top Critic

Serves as a powerful reminder that children have been willing to die for the hatred in which they've been schooled for a long time now.

Full Review… | April 12, 2002
Miami Herald
Top Critic

Audience Reviews for Borstal Boy

This is a moving drama that *just* manages to veer away from being too preachy at the end, although it was a close call. Shawn Hatosy turns in an impressively understated performance.

Hannah Megill
Hannah Megill

A very nice story of young Brendan Behan that shows love sometimes is found in unexpected places. As with any movie with WWII as a backdrop, there is not always a lot of sunshine, but the sweetness of youth is demonstrated.

Thomas Johnston
Thomas Johnston

Super Reviewer

I've had such a tremendous run of luck with foreign and independent films from Netflix. I wasn't really sure what 'Borstal Boy' was about and I picked it more for the length of the film than for any other reason because I had only an hour and a half before I needed to be doing something else. What a well spent 90 minutes it turned out to be. The British have an inimitable way with drama; we Americans don't have a horse in that race when we're up against them and this movie proves it. You sensed from the very first scenes that it was going to be a good movie, but the latrine scene with the boys, Brendan Behan and Charlie Milwall played by Shawn Hatosy and Danny Dyer respectively, gave you a sense that there would be no histrionics, no bleeding pathos here. What you knew was that there would be fine acting ahead. I greatly admire Peter Sheridan's direction, especially given the topic - he could have taken it over the top, but he kept the keel even. We Americans, even we gay Americans, sometimes shy away from bringing a gay scene into a situation but the British don't bat an eye and lay everything out for everyone to see. That's a good approach and 'Borstal Boy' proves it. That the story was true does nothing to remove the art from it, and that it was artfully played doesn't diminish the truth. I very highly recommend this movie, to both my gay, and my straight friends.

Jim Chatman
Jim Chatman

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